The urge to dazzle might be its personal straitjacket, and it’s one which weighs closely on Meshal Aljaser’s function debut “Naga.” He goals for a hurtling virtuosity, à la “Run Lola Run,” in depicting a disobedient younger Saudi lady’s excessive travails in making an attempt to get dwelling earlier than her strict curfew. However that quarter-century-old German thriller’s simplicity of plot supported its hyperbolic model, whereas right here the writer-director is so preoccupied with digital camera and editorial calisthenics, nothing else has an opportunity to come back into focus. The flamboyant however hole outcomes really feel like too acutely aware a calling card for a expertise that subsequent outing ought to embrace some restraint, to not point out substance.
A 1970 prologue of murky relevance begins issues off at peak melodramatic and cinematic hysteria, as a person enters a hospital with an automated weapon whereas DP Ibraheem Alshangeeti does upside-down 360’s for no apparent purpose. Within the current day, issues aren’t a lot calmer: Launched surreptitiously smoking, little one of wealth Sarah (Adwa Bader) seems jaded and bratty. However then, so does everybody we meet of her era right here, although no matter social critique the movie intends will get obscured amid all of the mud its hectic progress kicks up.
Sarah chafes on the restrictions of her conservative Riyadh family, particularly as enforced by her father (Khalid Bin Shaddad). His wrath is to not be toyed with, so she’s taking an enormous danger in ostensibly going procuring with equally peevish good friend Hadeel (Miriam Alshagrawi), when it’s actually an excuse to go on an unchaperoned date with Saad (Yazeed Almajyul). Although he hardly appears the accountable kind, it is extremely, essential he return Sarah to the place the place dad will choose her up at 10 p.m. — penalties to blowing that deadline could be dire. Nonetheless, the duo drive off into the desert, stopping to do some unspecified leisure substances en path to a secret occasion Saad has wrangled an invite to.
Every thing that might presumably go incorrect quickly does. They’re briefly terrorized by a passing truck; Sarah has a hallucinatory interlude that induces suits of screaming and laughing; they witness three quad-biker louts assaulting an ice cream truck operator. Arguing for the 99th (however not final) time on a distant street, the distracted couple drive into an unlucky camel, as its enraged mom raises hell behind a fence — the place it is not going to safely stay for lengthy. Upon efficiently finding the occasion eventually, Sarah manages to have additional altercations with Saad, one other unpleasant girlfriend (Oumkalthoum Sarah Bard) and the occasion’s host (Jabran Aljabran), a well-known poet. In the meantime, the clock is ticking, and he or she will not be but headed homeward.
Worse nonetheless will happen, together with a police raid. For some time, there’s a lot violent retribution from the aforementioned offended mama camel, it appears “Naga” would possibly flip right into a creature function of the “nature strikes again” selection. There are some intelligent twists within the late going, offering Sarah with against-the-odds potential salvation, and the movie ends on a pleasant caustic observe.
However Aljaser piles on a lot incessant, gimmicky stylistic overkill, his tonal shifts all really feel scattershot, and the general level elusive. Such a short-attention-spanned method leaves you questioning if and when the movie means to be a simple thriller, black comedy, satire of mores, cautionary story or no matter else — it doesn’t juggle these various balls a lot as merely throw all of them within the air, then depart the viewer to duck.
The impact is simply cluttered, much more so when it comes to showy method. Too typically “Naga” feels just like the type of movie college train wherein college students should incorporate each trick and course of they’ve discovered into one undertaking — by no means thoughts their irrelevance to the nominal story or thematic content material. That extends to the occasional suits of virtually strobe-like modifying, in addition to Omar Fadel’s anything-goes unique rating, which is abetted by tracks by different composers.
Although not given a lot house to create character depth, the performers are sport. There’s loads of fleetingly admirable stimulus within the realm of manufacturing design, location decisions, et al. But “Naga” is so persistently effortful, typically one needs it could simply accept the fundamental cheesiness of being “Killer Camel” — or something less-than, as Aljaser’s precocity slathers on such density of filigree, his movie appears to don’t have anything strong at its base.
After premiering in Toronto’s midnight part, and taking part in the Pink Sea Movie Competition, “Naga” is now streaming on Netflix.